Our History | RSPCA Victoria

Founded more than 150 years ago, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Victoria (RSPCA Victoria) is Australia’s oldest and most recognisable animal welfare charity ending cruelty to all animals. We have a proud history, founded by 18 Melburnians who were concerned about the welfare of working horses in Melbourne.

The very first RSPCA meeting in Victoria – and indeed Australia – was held in Collins Street, Melbourne on 4 July 1871. Although we still have work to do to end animal cruelty, we have come a long way since that first meeting in Collins Street. 

In the past ten years alone, we have:

  • Made incredible strides to end puppy farming by advocating for changes to the Domestic Animals Act with the ‘Close Puppy Factories’ campaign. 
  • Significantly improved racing welfare standards of the horse and greyhound racing codes.
  • Kept renters and their pets together by influencing changes to the Rental Tenancies Act. 
  • Helped reunite lost pets faster with changes to 84Y legislation. 
  • Influenced countless pieces of legislation and policy, including the new Animal Welfare Act currently being developed, which will revolutionise our powers to address animal cruelty and neglect
  • Cared for hundreds of thousands of animals who have entered our doors, in sickness and in health, looking for a second chance at life. 

Our animal welfare timeline

Since our humble beginnings in 1871, the RSPCA has evolved to become a leader in animal welfare. Some of our historic milestones include:

  • 4 July 1871: VSPCA holds its first ever meeting at Collins Street Mechanics Institute. 18 men register as Committee members. The group initially forms to focus on horse welfare.
  • 24 July 1871: VSPCA members find headquarters at 66 Collins Street West.
  • 1871: VSPCA hires first two Inspectors.
  • 1875: VSPCA begins looking beyond horses to other livestock such as ducks, geese, goats, and sheep.
  • 1881: “An Act for the Protection of Animals” passes in Parliament.
  • 1943: The Junior VSPCA establishes and proves effective in educating children on animal welfare issues.
  • 1954: The VSPCA changes to The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
  • 1956: The VSPCA gains royal patronage, becoming the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
  • 1969: Dr Hugh Wirth AM is appointed to the Committee.
  • 1972: Dr Hugh Wirth AM is elected as President in September. Remains President for 43 years until his retirement in 2016.
  • 1974: RSPCA’s administration building on the corner of Middleborough Rd and Burwood Hwy opens.
  • 1982: The Animal Adoption Centre opens.
  • 2006: RSPCA Victoria celebrates its 135th birthday. In June, the Burwood East site redevelopment sees new dog adoption and quarantine kennels built.
  • 2008: RSPCA Victoria participates in the international WSPA Handle with Care live export campaign.
  • 2009: RSPCA Vic takes lead role in the care of animals from the Black Saturday bushfires and continues to support affected communities. Maria Mercurio is appointed as CEO.
  • 2010: Launch of the ‘Close Puppy Factories’ campaign, resulting in promised revisions to legislation to protect dogs in these facilities and increased power for RSPCA Inspectors.
  • 2011: The RSPCA and Animals Australia work collaboratively to campaign for a ban on live export of cattle to Indonesia.
  • 2014: Dr Liz Walker is appointed as RSPCA Victoria’s CEO. After years of advocating, RSPCA Victoria welcomes stronger mandatory standards for puppy and kitten breeding establishments.
  • 2015: Dr Hugh Wirth AM retires as President of RSPCA Victoria and was Patron of the organisation until his death in February 2018. RSPCA Victoria charges 14 people in the greyhound live baiting scandal, bringing national attention to an issue that has plagued the greyhound racing industry for years.
  • 2016: RSPCA Victoria starts advocating for pet owner rental reform. RSPCA Victoria successfully calls for a repeal to Breed Specific Legislation, bringing attention to responsible pet-ownership and helping reduce stigma surrounding certain breeds.
  • 2017: Epping’s $13 million-dollar, state of the art Animal Welfare Facility opens and is run by RSPCA Victoria.
  • 2018: Bernie Delaney is appointed as President of RSPCA Victoria.
  • 2019: In conjunction with RSPCA Australia, RSPCA Victoria provides a submission and presents at the Senate inquiry into the feasibility of a National Horse Registry, helping improve the traceability of horses.
  • 2020: Catastrophic bushfires see RSPCA Victoria leap into action with Zoos Victoria to help injured wildlife and bushfire-affected pet owners. Plans for a $1.8 million wildlife hospital are underway, with $1.3 million of that figure coming from donations to RSPCA’s bushfire appeal. New laws on pet rental reform come into effect after years of campaigning from RSPCA Victoria. Landlords cannot unreasonably refuse tenants with pets.
  • 2021: RSPCA Victoria commemorates 150 years of caring for and protecting animals. The organisation continues to stand as Australia’s most loved and trusted animal welfare society.

RSPA Victoria continues working towards its advocacy goals, including:

  • End duck shooting in Victoria
  • Ban battery cages in Victoria
  • Significant welfare improvements across the three racing codes across the three horse racing codes
  • All owned and semi-owned domestic cats in Victoria are desexed
  • Wildlife legislation reform in Victoria
  • Animal welfare legislation reform in Victoria.

Explore our latest news to learn more about our recent work caring for and protecting animals.